Alceu Valença is a successful Brazilian singer/songwriter and the creator of a distinctive musical style that mixes his northeastern roots (São Bento do Una, in the state of Pernambuco) and contemporary MPB grooves. He is also an energetic, even mesmerizing live performer. His songs have been recorded by several major artists, including Luiz Gonzaga (with whom he wrote "Plano Piloto"), Maria Bethânia, and Elba Ramalho. His life was depicted in Anamelia Maciel's book Alceu Valença em Frente e Verso.
The son of a locally renowned lawyer, Valença always worried his father with his rebellious character. At five he participated in a music contest, singing a song by Capiba. At 11, his mother took ill and his family moved to Recife. During this period, Valença became interested in the acoustic guitar and viola. However, he didn't get one for a few years — he won an instrument during a song competition when he was 15. In 1965 he began a long period of attending law school in Recife with several interruptions. Three years later he began his musical career with the group Tamarineira Village. He also played with Zé Ramalho and Elba Ramalho during this period. While attending law school, he took part in an essay competition that offered a three-month course at Harvard University as its first prize. Without knowing a word of English, he drafted an essay comparing Marxism to the Catholic Church and pointed poetically at the contradictions of political ideologies in vogue. He won. During his Harvard period, he played his political songs in coffee houses when not studying. He was profiled by the student newspaper, which referred to him as the "Brazilian Bob Dylan." After returning to Brazil, he graduated but never practiced law.
In 1972, he met Geraldo Azevedo. Together, they participated in many song festival competitions and recorded their first album, Quadrafônico, on Copacabana, produced by none other than Rogerio Duprat. He recruited musicians who were already established, including Zé Ramalho (who played the Brazilian viola) and Elba Ramalho (a chorus girl). Valença placed numerous songs in festival competitions, but due to controversial lyric matter he was often disqualified — though these banned tunes won him a following among likeminded young people. Disappointed, he returned to Recife with the conviction of abandoning music. This decision proved short-lived. In 1974, he released the Eustaquio Sena-produced album Molhado De Suor (Som Livre). An avant-folk outing, it also featured the talents of Azevedo and Lula Cortes. He toured several Northeastern cities. That same year, he participated in Sérgio Ricardo's film A Noite do Espantalho as the main character; he also scored and recorded its soundtrack. Neither album received much attention from consumers, but both were well-received by critics. In February 1975, he scored a big hit with "Vou Danado pra Catende," at a festival; inspired by modernist Pernambucan poet Ascenso Ferreira, crowd support led the competition's jury to create a special "Research" prize. In 1975, he recorded the now-classic rock album Vivo, a rock album recorded at the Teresa Raquel Theater in Rio de Janeiro. While touring and entering song competitions constantly, he didn't record again for two years; the studio effort Espelho Cristalino was issued in 1977 and charted. These two recordings (and a couple of important television performances) put him over the top as a unique stylist and songwriter in the MPB tradition, but he was also embraced by an entire generation of rockers. In 1979, he recorded Saudade de Pernambuco in Paris. The album presented the interface between his previous, more contentious songs, his experimental phase, and sophisticated pop songs that were heavily derived from northeastern song traditions. (It remained unreleased in Brazil until 2016.) In 1980, he released Coração Bobo, which contained the hit single "Na Primeira Manhã," and followed it in 1981 with Cinco Sentidos. 1982's Cavalo de Pau included the smash hits "Tropicana" and "Como Dois Animais." It was a prolific and insanely busy period: Valença was either recording, touring, or competing — and sometimes all three at once — and he had little time for anything else. In 1983, he released Anjo Avesso with "Anunciação," and a live date recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival (Switzerland), entitled Brazil Night: Ao Vivo em Montreux. In 1984, his Mágico album scored a hit with the single "Solidão." 1985's Estação da Luz was both a best-seller and registered high with critics.
Valença was successful beyond anybody's dreams but his own. Several of his songs became soap opera themes (the fastest way to reach a mass audience in Brazil) and grew his already large following. In 1986, he recorded the live album Ao Vivo, and in the same year, Rubi. In 1987, he recorded Leque Moleque, and in the following years, Oropa, França e Bahia (1988). The '90s were equally prolific for Valença. He began the decade with 1990's Andar, Andar and Sete Desejos (1991). The latter contained the Top Five smash "Tesoura do Desejo." During the latter year, he participated in Rock in Rio 2 festival. 1994's Maracatus Batuques e Ladeiras featured the track "Pétalas" (with Herbert Azul), that received the Sharp Prize for the Best Song of the Year. Together with Azevedo, Elba, and Ze Ramalho, he cut 1996's live album O Grande Encontro and the studio offering Mourisco. Valença issued two more recordings during the 1990s in Sol e Chuva (1997) and, Forró de Todos os Tempos (1998). Both recordings sold reasonably well, and showcased material that juxtaposed his pop sound with Afro-Brazilian rhythms.
After a three-year break, Valença issued Sino de Ouro in early 2001. De Janeiro a Janeiro was released a year later and the audio-video package, Ao Vivo Em Todos Os Sentidos, followed in 2003. Valença earned a position as one of the most respected singers and songwriters in Brazilian popular music by this time, and his albums and singles continued to chart. In August of 2006, he performed in Recife for over 100,000 fans. The concert was shot with numerous cameras and the show was recorded for the 2007 live outing Marco Zero Ao Vivo. The songwriter reverted to his acoustic roots for Ciranda Mourisca, issued by Biscoito Fino in 2009. It featured unplugged versions of lesser-known songs such as "Mensageira Dos Anjos," "Dente de Ocidente," the high-charting "Ciranda da Rosa Vermelha," and other hits.
After several long spates of touring, Valença retreated to write and work on other projects, while Universal remastered and reissued select titles from his catalog. He resurfaced publicly in 2014 with the studio outing Amigo da Arte. The set celebrated the frevos, maracatus, and cirandas of Pernambuco's legendary carnivals. Portuguese singer Carminho duetted with Valença on "Frevo No. 1: Recife," penned by Antonio Maria. Two years later, he issued three different live recordings. First, Encontros 20 Anos with longtime friends and collaborators Elba Ramalho and Azevedo, followed by a collection of hits rearranged and revisioned for orchestra entitled Valencianas: Alceu Valença E Orquestra Ouro Preto, and finally Vivo! Revivo! along with an original score and soundtrack for the film Luneta do Tempo, issued by Deck. The occasion of his 70th birthday was celebrated in 2017 with the release of Anos 70, a box set containing his '70s albums on 180 gram vinyl — Molhado de Suor (1974), Vivo (1976), and Espelho Cristalino (1977). Also included was the reissue of 1979's rare Saudade de Pernambuco. ~ Thom Jurek & Alvaro Neder